Assessment & Feedback

The OTP course challenged and in places, changed quite dramatically some of our prior attitudes and beliefs about what effective teaching and learning looks like.  The importance of other beliefs or favourite practices of ours were reinforced and improved.

Most of all, the programme reinvigorated my aim to see learning through the eyes of my students and to further understand my students’ understanding.  This resurfaces the familiar quests of ‘getting inside the black box’ and ‘assessing for learning’ that feature on so many initial teacher training schemes.  Hardly novel concepts, yet ones that many of us find challenging to achieve.

Research findings

John Hattie, Professor of Education at Auckland University has synthesised the results of over 500,000 studies of the effects of influences on student achievement.  Findings suggest that almost all things we do in the name of education have a positive effect on achievement but only some practices have a marked and meaningful effect on student learning – not just a positive (greater than zero) effect.

A key finding from this research is that the most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback (see table 1). What is needed is quality feedback and where that feedback has the greatest effect is when teachers receive more and better feedback about what the students have learned.

Table 1:  The top five innovations that are above the typical effect (Hattie)


Effect Size

Source of Influence


Students’ prior cognitive ability


Instructional quality


Direct instruction






The Important Message

So, the starting point for my work on assessment and feedback at Chosen Hill is that most teaching innovations have some positive effect of student achievement but most influences merely impact on the probability of the presence of feedback and challenging goals:  achievement is enhanced as a function of feedback.  For us to become expert rather than just experienced teachers, one of the things we can do is to improve the frequency and quality of feedback given to the students in our classrooms.

Looking forward

My focus is now on exploring the questions below with a cross curricular, entirely non-judgemental perspective.

  • What kind of feedback should be taking place in our classrooms?
  • How could we obtain more feedback from students?
  • How can we improve the quality of feedback?
  • How can we ensure we act on this feedback to raise achievement?

Learning strategies for Visible Learning

Research suggests that 4 large learning strategies hold the key to Independent (Visible) Learning:

Multiple ways of knowing: The major message is that multiple ways of presenting material needs to be provided close to each other with minimum distracting material. We can only process so much at a time, but we need multiple ways of seeing new ideas without overloading our working memory.

  • Ideas that need to be associated should be presented near to each other in space, and time
  • Materials and Multimedia should explicitly link related ideas and minimise distracting irrelevant material
  • The information presented to the learners should not overload working memory

Multiple ways of interacting – we learn best by interacting with the ideas, by deliberately rephrasing the ideas, and by finding ‘ coat hangers’ to hang to link previous notions (or examples) – particularly when there is tension between what we know and what we are encountering. We need to be taught explicitly how to process such learning.

  • Outlining, integrating and synthesizing information produces better learning than rereading materials or other passive strategies
  • Stories and example cases tend to be remembered better than facts and abstract principles
  • Deep reasoning and learning is stimulated by problems that create obstacles to the goals, such as contradictions, conflicts and anomalies – and students need to be told that this is a normal part of learning

Multiple opportunities for practising – most of us, struggling or gifted, need multiple opportunities to learn new ideas, preferably over time, and we need to see the purpose of deliberately practising

  • An understanding of an abstract concept improves with multiple and varied examples.
  • Spaced schedules of studying produce better long – term retention than a single session.
  • To maintain engaged and sustained learning, there is a need to see value and purpose in the practice, and a need to develop a growing sense of confidence when facing challenges in this learning.

Knowing what we are learning – when we learn, we can make many errors, go in the wrong direction, learn wrong information, and meet many challenges – and thus we are often dependent on ‘just in time, just for me’ feedback to ensure that we move efficiently and effectively towards the success criteria.

  • Making errors is often a necessity for learning to occur; students need safe environments in which they can go beyond their comfort levels, make and learn from errors, and know when they have erred.
  • Learning the wrong material can be reduced when feedback is immediate.
  • Challenges help to make learning easier and thereby have positive effects on long-term retention.

Collated remarks from OTP INSET Evaluation– 1/12/11

  1.   Was the meeting useful in terms of self / dept. development ideas?
  • Yes as several of the dept. are keen to take it further and use it to start conversations within the dept.
  • Reinforces what we do in the English dept.
  • Yes X5
  • I found the sheet (activity) very useful to assess my own lessons as well as others, and set targets for improvement
  • Very useful and the session will allow the whole department to work together with the lesson review process
  • Your meeting was very good at prompting self-evaluation making me consider the softer aspects of lesson planning, particularly in choice of activities for engagement. As a block of scientists we felt we could have some mileage for CPD department wide
  • Very useful ideas for self and departmental development especially in  terms of filming bits of lessons and evaluating as small groups and as a larger department.

2.    Did the activities help your understanding of what ‘Outstanding’ might mean in you teams, or implications for Ofsted?


  • Much more understanding of what Ofsted are looking for, rather than agreeing what outstanding is.
  • All teams need to see the official forms so they can discuss how criteria has changed
  • The discussion between colleagues and the issues raised were very interesting
  • A few colleagues stated they had really seen the difference for the first time during this conversation
  • I have a greater understanding, but believe more training or assistance will be required
  • Yes X3
  • It did help. However, I still feel that I could do some more time spent on this as if pushed by my colleagues to describe and analyse, I would feel that I was not giving a full account
  • Partially – It was a good starting point but now time is needed to consider some of the statements in greater detail, and what they would look like in the classroom
  • To a certain extent. It seems to be more about making sure the students are seen to be learning, rather than the teacher teaching
  • Clearly explained

3.    Would you recommend the meeting to colleagues in the future?

  • Definitely
  • Absolutely – Many staff present are already ‘open’ to improving practice or on their journey. It would be good to reach other staff …
  • I feel the session could be repeated in different groups – it is clear that the challenge and engagement exercise throws up a lot of useful discussion – many subject areas are unable to move from the teacher / task based approach to the new learning styles for challenge.
  • Yes X4
  • I would try and get every member of the department to attend
  • I will ask Line manager to observe my ‘Prof Dev.’ using this model… Can I have a set of cards please?!
  • Yes – there was a good atmosphere and a general feeling of trying to help everyone
  • If the meetings were run by OTP – definitely

4.    Are there any topics linked to Outstanding Teaching, which you would like covered in a meeting (not behaviour linked)?

  • Would like to see more videos of a range of lessons / subjects that could be discussed in the positive groups that were at the last meeting.
  • Powerful when students tell us what they consider an outstanding lesson to be
  • How Q & A sessions should develop to achieve Outstanding during an Ofsted inspection
  • Giving challenge to every student in a group. How would this look and how we could plan for this without taking as long planning as delivering the lesson!
  • Engaging students who are lacking motivation

5.    Any other comments:

  • It would be a great idea to run this session again during a Learning Community…
  • … super positive start.. . I feel some more co-planning and observing may help ‘shift’ happen.
  • Final task was easy to access and really useful
  • I was hesitant about the meeting (after getting on with a long list of tasks was appealing), but I was glad I went and feel there is a whole new challenge we have to meet. Your support is the starting point of this
  • I like the model you envisage – non-judgemental would be better from a teaching and learning point of view and for morale generally
  • The new model is an excellent idea
  • Keep going – best inset for ages… felt I have learnt something and done something!

JLw  Jan ‘11


Laura Perry – Update from Space!

I am looking at different ways to use space in my lessons to give students more autonomy and encourage collaborative work. I hope to encourage this in other classrooms initially by making videos available of students using space in different ways and by encouraging colleagues in to come and watch different activities in action.

The first thing I tried this year was to rearrange the desks into groups of four to encourage group conversations/debates/arguments. I could then go and join in with different groups and try and reduce the teacher-led teacher-whole class interactions and allow groups to manage their own conversations and debate and go off on tangents etc.  I can also arrange students according to ability. (You can see this on the inset video )

The Timewalk is an idea I took from an MFL teacher called Greg Horton to encourage students to refer to past or future events and access the higher grades at GCSE. Students move backwards or forwards depending on their time reference (e.g. 2 minutes ago = 2 tiny steps back, 2 weeks age = a few big steps back and a century ago = running to the back of the field). The topic was to talk about activities we have done on holiday. Students combined the actions for the different activities with moving into the correct time position.  I find the kinesthetic activities are as popular with the very high ability students as they are with the lower ability groups. When they are doing speaking and writing activities in class I sometimes see them making these physical gestures to jog their memory. This video shows year 10 Spanish doing this.

The human skyline is another idea I nicked from Greg Horton. Students pick a word and get up one by one to form a sentence. Capital letters stand on chairs. Certain words (such as opinions, certain verbs/tenses, adjectives, good connectives…) may be rewarded by waving pom poms, speaking into a mic, putting on a wig, dressing up… encourage students to include the complex structures in their sentences to access the higher grades. If they use complex structures there should not be many capital letters on chairs.

This clip shows year 11 when they had formed their sentence. I then asked them to stick with the word they chose but to jumble themselves to form a different sentence with the same words (this was spare of the moment – I didn’t nick it!). Each student put their word onto a mini-whiteboard.  The clip shows yr 10 doing the same activity but they are a far more mixed ability group they had mini-whiteboards from the start). Both times the second rearranged sentence was the better one.

Speed dating is an activity lots of MFL teachers use to encourage students to talk and to take part in peer assessment.   By talking to and listening to a lot of people in a short time students generally stay focused, sometimes talk spontaneously and can use and adapt other peoples’ structures in their own work.  In this clip we are focusing on using opinions and reasons.

Here is a link to some of Greg Horton’s work.

New Directions

When I get the chance, I have been looking into some fairly exciting developments/possibilities for the use of digital technology in the classroom. Here’s an update.

My starting point has been to try to find things that could make a really difference to the school lives of both students and teachers. I have tried to avoid the temptation to experiment with something simply because it looks good. Instead, I have tried to identify what I would like to be able to do and have then tried to see if there is anything out there that can deliver.

I identified two priorities.

1. Instead of phones being a distraction, how could we use phones to make students more engaged in their learning?

2. How can we use technology to make marking – the bane of all our lives – less irksome, more meaningful and more interactive (and formative)?


Could mobile phones act as a hi-tech,low maintenance alternative to use of mini-white boards. I like the idea of students being given a chance to reflect and then share an answer as an alternative to the hurly-burly of ‘hands up if you know the answer’.  The same hands go up and the same hands stay down.

I know that the English department have been trying to dispense with hands up altogether, and I have seen effective use of  mini-white boards in other parts of the school. Personally, however, I have always been put off by the palaver of passing the boards around, making sure that there are enough pens and rubbers/cloths. I also feel that students don’t necessarily see each other’s responses and unless the teacher happens to pick them, there answers are essentially redundant.

Here’s the idea. At the end of the question you ask the students to send a text in which they summarise what they have learned in the lesson. Or perhaps, you ask them a very open-ended question that builds on the learning that has taken place. They send a text in a matter of seconds (no need for passing around those whiteboards) and lo and behold, all their responses appear on the teacher’s screen at the front of the class. Responses can be discussed, challenged etc. Everyone feels they have contributed. What is more, if the question has thrown up interesting ideas that could be useful in a subsequent lesson, it is easy to share and distribute this electronic record of the class’s ideas.

Can it be done. Yes – just about. There is a site that does it perfectly – It’;s free and incredibly easy to use. Unfortunately, however, for the moment in the UK  it is only possible for students to share ideas from a PC to the class screen. The SMS option is not yet available outside the US. Still – a useful option for a computer room , or as a piece of homework. Another site, textthemob does pretty much the same thing, but a little less stylishly.

There is another option, however, that does this….and a bit more. It;s called polleverywhere. You can set an open question and then get students to send their response to a screen. Cleverly, you can also set multiple choice questions or polls, and then see the results as a bar graph on the class’s big screen as the results come in. For example: When was the Battle of Hastings:




This can of course be used at the culmination of a lesson to assess learning, or as an ‘opening shot’ to try to generate discussion, or indeed as a homework task. It’s possible to ask (and answer) more than one question in any one poll.

There are a couple of other sites:




Lesson Management & Collaboration

Free Texting From PCs

Free Group Texting

Speed Reading


Automatic Grading with Google Do cs

Movie Clips

Video Mail

Talking Photos

Pictures and Storytelling


Live Blogging




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